5 Decisions You Can Make to End Disrespect

My friend and I stood outside the school building as our daughters chatted nearby. “So this guy on a moped swerved when Koda ran into the road,” he said, telling me about his crazy terrier’s escape from the yard. But as he talked, his younger child started tugging on his jacket. He swatted his hands away. “Koda’s fine, but the guy on the—” he stopped, and turned to his son. “Buddy, go play for a few minutes until I’m done talking. Anyway,” he said. But then, undeterred, his son started to hit him! Light taps devolved into little fists pummeling his side. He laughed, pulling his son into an embrace as he finished telling me the story.

We’ve all been in uncomfortable situations where our kids are disrespectful. From tots to teens, it’s a problem no dad likes to deal with. But if you want your kids to start treating you better, here are the 5 decisions you must make to end disrespectful child behavior.

1. Refuse to be passive.

“Let’s go!” I called across the playground. I’d let my child play for a while after school, but it’d gotten late. Luckily for me, she cooperated. But there have been other times when one of my children has said, “No!” or worse, “I don’t like you!” As parents, we do a lot of directing: Do your homework, sit still, wash your hands, set the table… Along the way, kids get tired and sometimes don’t act their best. But if they get disrespectful, we have to quash it right away.

Does your child call you or his siblings names? Does he hit or push? If you don’t want disrespectful child behavior, you have to call him on it each time and enact a consequence. Doing nothing is a decision. Don’t make that one.

2. Follow through with consequences.

My friend told me his daughter always refused to open her mouth for tooth-brushing. He said he’d played countless games and videos and even used sticker charts to get his daughter to cooperate. But after a couple days, his daughter would get bored and go back to tight lips. Finally, my friend had enough and told his daughter, “If you don’t cooperate, there will be no time for a story tonight.” His daughter didn’t believe him, but when my friend refused to climb into bed with her, he said his daughter did a 180 the following night.

Being respectful means cooperating when told. If you want respect, you might have to be tougher. Following through with consequences is the first step. Be consistent, even if it’s hard, until you get the good behavior you want.

3. Tolerate zero disrespect.

This is a decision you have to make over and over. My husband helps me with this one. When we’re on the same page and form a unified front, our kids learn we mean business, and it’s easier to follow through with consequences if they slip up.

Counselor and author Sheri Moskowitz Noga, M.A. says you must tolerate zero disrespect. If your child plugs her ears and says “I’m not listening” or runs off shouting “I hate you,” you need to address the disrespectful behavior once you’re both calm. Your child needs to know her behavior isn’t acceptable.

4. Put time into your relationship.

Will you play catch with me? Will you play LEGOs? Will you finger paint with me? If we want less disrespectful child behavior, we have to commit to putting in time to play with our kids whether they’re 5 or 15. If kids enjoy spending time with us, they’re more likely to respect our opinions and want to please us.

Pediatrician and author Leonard Sax, M.D. says that “having fun together is one foundation of authoritative parenting.” If kids have more fun with their peers, they’re going to be more influenced by them. But if we want our kids to adopt our values, our kids need to enjoy spending time with us. Decide to have fun with your kids every day—even if it’s just 10 minutes shooting hoops or playing Trouble after dinner.

5. Be the parent.

When I’m on the floor playing LEGOs with my daughter, she sees me as a fun playmate, and I enjoy making her smile. But when I want her to eat her asparagus or wash her face at night, I expect her to do as she’s told without any disrespectful child behavior. It’s easier to get her cooperation when she sees that I’m first and foremost her parent and that I’m in charge—not her.

According to Dr. Sax, if we make the choice to put our time into teaching our kids right from wrong and not focus primarily on winning our child’s love and affection, we may come to find our children love and respect us even when we’re not looking for it.

Sound off: Disrespectful child behavior can bring out the worst in us. How do you keep yourself in control when you see it in your child?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What do you think it looks like to be respectful to someone?”